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Following its release in 2016, the Ubuntu Touch platform (often referred to as “Ubuntu Phone”) hasn’t exactly set the world alight. But it hasn’t been a complete disappointment, either. I took a Meizu device on holiday and spent the day with it at Legoland Resort, Windsor to extremely favorable results.
But in 2017, short of a security update, Ubuntu Touch vanished. News from Canonical in early April revealed that the end was nigh. No new devices are coming your way — Ubuntu Phone is joining Unity on the scrapheap. Investment has ended.
This is a dead OS.
There will be no new version, no updates, no improvements to their Microsoft Continuum-beating Convergence system. Ubuntu Touch is going the way of webOS and other loved-but-ignored touch operating systems.
But what if you have an Ubuntu Touch? What can you do to keep using your phone safely?
The Canonical Announcement
On April 5th, 2017, Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, announced that the OS would be changing its focus. The result of this is the end of the Unity desktop and the Ubuntu Touch mobile project.
“…we will end our investment in Unity8, the phone and convergence shell… our efforts were seen [as] fragmentation not innovation. And industry has not rallied to the possibility, instead taking a ‘better the devil you know’ approach to those form factors, or investing in home-grown platforms.”
To continue to attract investment, Canonical is basically shutting down the departments that aren’t making money. Ubuntu Touch hasn’t caught the attention of mobile manufacturers in the way Canonical had hoped, but cloud and internet of Things technology are growth areas, so efforts are being refocused there.
Are You Using an Ubuntu Touch Phone or Tablet?
You might have bought a handset, or you might have downloaded and installed Ubuntu. In short, there are two ways you could be using it.
Ubuntu Touch Handsets
BQ and Meizu have released several dedicated Ubuntu Touch handsets:
- BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition
- BQ Aquaris E5 Ubuntu Edition
- BQ Aquaris M10 HD Ubuntu Edition
- BQ Aquaris M10 FHD Ubuntu Edition
- Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition
- Meizu PRO 5 Ubuntu Edition (which we reviewed in 2016)
Most of these handsets were also available with Android installed. The hardware for both appears to be identical, as Ubuntu smartphones and tablets could be flashed with Android and vice versa.
Devices That Run Ubuntu Touch
Official ports of Ubuntu Touch are also available:
- Fairphone 2
- Nexus 5 (2013) (we previously demonstrated how to run Ubuntu Touch on a Nexus device)
- Nexus 10
- OnePlus One
- OnePlus X
- Nexus 7 (2013) (LTE)
If you’re using any of these phones and you’re concerned about keeping your phone and data secure, the lack of future updates might well be prompting you to ask: what’s the alternative?
Ignore Google Android: Look for Open Source Android
Google Android is not open source. Although using the Linux kernel, Android features many proprietary technologies. If you’re looking for an open source alternative to Ubuntu Phone, Google Android is not it.
However, AOSP might be what you’re looking for. The Android Open Source Project is, if you like, “pure” Android, without the Google apps built in and a few other differences. If your affection for Ubuntu Touch was in some way encouraged by a dislike for Google, there are several AOSP-powered ROMs.
Options such as AOKP (Android Open Kang Project), ColorOS, Replicant, and Cyanogen (and its fork Lineage) might be the projects you switch to. Alternatively, if you’re using an Ubuntu Touch device from Meizu, their iOS-inspired Flyme OS is available.
You can typically find these third-party ROMs at XDA-Developers.com. Just search for your handset and see what is available. Instructions are usually provided.
Other Linux-Based Mobile Platforms
Could there be another mobile platform compatible with your now defunct Ubuntu Phone?
While Canonical may have decided to abandon Ubuntu, there are other operating systems that you may be able to try out. One of the options is Plasma Mobile, an attractive mobile version of the popular Plasma desktop environment.
Plasma Mobile is currently available for OnePlus One and Nexus 5 (2013) devices, although there is also a 64-bit image available for Intel-based touchscreen devices.
Meanwhile, you might also take a look at Sailfish OS, which is also based on Linux (and has notable ancestors in the defunct MeeGo, Maemo, and Moblin mobile operating systems). Support for various devices is provided by the core developers and the wider community.
Whether these alternatives will run on your handset, however, will depend on the OS and its compatibility.
Sticking With Ubuntu Touch? Do This One Thing
None of what is discussed so far addresses what is perhaps the most important point: Canonical might have abandoned Ubuntu Touch, but what if you’re happy with it?
While it’s unlikely that your Ubuntu phone or tablet is likely to be susceptible to any mobile malware, it remains important that you install the latest update. The OTA 15 update is a security fix, one that should toughen up the Ubuntu Touch operating system and allow you to continue using it for the foreseeable future.
New features would be nice, but ensuring your data is secure is more important.
And, of course, the end doesn’t have to be final. Not just yet, anyway. Ubuntu Touch’s card system means that standard apps are unnecessary in many cases. Social networking, web browsing, and email will continue to work due to how they’re implemented.
It’s sad that there will be no more Ubuntu Touch, but it’s reassuring to see how the intelligence of the UI design can prolong its use.
Could Ubuntu Touch Survive?
Fortunately, if you don’t fancy taking any of the steps above, there could be light at the end of the tunnel. The UBports team have taken the mantle of continuing the Ubuntu Touch project. And they are seeking developers to help make the OS available on as many devices as possible.
UBports are accepting donations to start work on additional devices, and have funding almost complete for porting Ubuntu Touch to the Nexus 7 (LTE) and Nexus 10 tablets. Others are in progress.
This is an exciting possibility for Ubuntu Touch, but one that will require long-term commitment from the developers and donors alike.
With continued support, perhaps there is a small chance that the mobile version of Ubuntu will overcome its sudden cancelation by Canonical. A few features may change, Convergence may well be abandoned… time will tell. There remain plenty of reasons to try Ubuntu Touch.
Have you used Ubuntu Touch? Did you like it or is news that Canonical is abandoning its convergence strategy later than you expected? Tell us what you think in the comments.